Children's wards could be on the brink of collapse due to a shortage of paediatric doctors, experts warn.
Due to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis that is gripping the country, 23 per cent of such posts to treat poorly infants are unfilled.
Struggling to fill gaps on wards to treat youngsters, nine in ten children's units are worried about how they will cope in the foreseeable future.
Desperate to find stand-in doctors to keep the services running, many trusts are turning to locums who charge 'extortionate' fees.
But even these are turning their heads from working on children's wards as a result of an imposed cap on agency staff.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health were behind the findings which have been labelled as a 'wake-up call'.
Due to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis that is gripping the country, 23 per cent of such posts to treat poorly infants are unfilled
Simon Clark, workforce officer at the college, said youngsters are being given interrupted care as hospital's battle to find cover.
He said: 'Large gaps in the paediatric workforce have a serious impact on doctors and vital hospital services.
'More senior doctors end up back-filling the gaps, which in turn also leads to cancelled services.'
He added: 'These figures should act as a wake-up call for Government to act now.'
The professional body's survey was conducted on the most senior doctors at two thirds of the 211 paediatric units in the UK, the newspaper reports.
In addition, it found 19 per cent of jobs below consultant role are unfilled - a four per cent jump on the previous year.
Some 41 per cent of these gaps are filled by locums, who have been found to charge fees of up to £3,600 for a day's work.
While many overnight shifts for paediatric doctors are being filled by staff who are untrained to do such roles, it found.
Desperate to find stand-in doctors to keep the services running, many NHS trusts are turning to locums who charge 'extortionate' fees
Caps on locum pay were introduced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2015 to slash a growing bill for agency doctors - of which the NHS has become reliant on.
It prevents locums from receiving more than 55 per cent above the wage of an equivalent staff member, meaning consultants get no more than £76 an hour.